How To Talk To Your Children About Manchester, One Year On

Nick Taylor

Today marks one year since the Manchester Arena attack, and a significant amount of attention will be given to it in the news, on social media and in conversation.

Terrorism is a crime against society and, as the threat level indicates, the likelihood of a terrorist attack in the UK from international terrorism is severe - there is now a great deal of awareness of the risks and consequences about those who use violence to threaten our way of life. The attacks in 2017, particularly that in Manchester, where children and young people were targeted, has resulted in unprecedented activity in the support agencies such as the Peace Foundation, education establishments and the NHS to support children - awareness of and concern about terrorism is extremely high.

An event of the scale of what happened in Manchester will attract a lot of attention and it may mean that some people, particularly children, need to be supported through the anniversary period, given the intensity of the news coverage and the emotion created by the anniversary ceremonies.

Here is some advice for parents, carers, educators and all people who have contact with children.

Talking to children about terrorism and the Manchester attack

News of a terrorist attack is always frightening, but for parents, there is the added dilemma of what to say to their children.

Should I shield them from the news? Is it best just to turn the television off? Will the images they see traumatise them? Or should I tell my children exactly what happened?

The advice from professionals is that talking about these issues is better than avoiding them - families should not shy away from talking about tragic events.

Give children basic facts, tell them what it is they want to know, ask them what they would like to know and then give them access to that.

Support them, comfort them, and be there for them, hug them, cry with them if they’re crying - just respond to how they’re responding emotionally.

Take the lead from them. We need to know what it is they want answers to.

While turning off the television and radio might be a natural protective instinct, shielding children from traumatic events in the news isn’t practical in today’s society. Parents can’t shield children from these events completely. The reality is that children and young people are inundated by 24/7 news.

Trying to hide the news isn’t helpful because they’ll hear about it elsewhere and parents won’t then be there to take them through it.

Be there, and to try to help children manage their emotions.

However, while it’s important to talk about the news, parents should avoid details. There’s no need for them, they’re unnecessary. You don’t need to be describing the scene, describing what it looked like, or showing them images.

Be firm with older children about how much they read on the internet. Tell your young person not to go scouring the internet for all the inside stories, it’s just not necessary - we need to protect our young people as well.

Helpful phrases

Take the lead from children in how the conversation develops, but you should try to include as many calm and reassuring phrases as possible: “This is a very rare occurrence”. “It’s absolutely awful, but thank goodness it’s extremely rare”. “Security is going to be tightened even more”.

We don’t want our children feeling afraid to go out, we want them to grow up to lead normal, happy, healthy, well-adjusted lives.

If faced with the question, “could this happen again?” tell the truth, but also giving children lots of reassurance about their normal, everyday activities.

“Of course, it could... But it’s very unlikely, these are very, very rare events.”

“We have to carry on living our lives in a normal way and not be cowed by these bad people.”

Will teachers talk about events?

The scale of recent attacks and the attention of the world on the Manchester attack means that many schools are equipped to hold conversations and in giving pupils a chance to talk about attacks and anniversaries.

If children want to talk, teachers will let them ask questions and they will be talking to them about how they can look at appropriate, reliable sources for information. Schools will also be working hard to emphasise a sense of community cohesion and emphasise the sense of community and shared values - they’ll be using every opportunity to celebrate what they have in their own community.

Routines are important and can carry people through - they keep a sense of calm purpose.

In summary, here are the things can you do to help children

  • Allow time and a quiet space to talk to children about it
  • Listen to their concerns
  • Allow them to ask as many questions as they would like and, if you don’t know the answer, perhaps you can find out together
  • Encourage them to do something that makes them feel good: watch a favourite film, read a book, go for a walk, play football
  • It’s important to take a break and manage feelings bit by bit
  • Calm their fears as much as you can: perspective. This isn’t everyday. This is also why it’s so shocking for us because it is uncommon
  • Be kind to yourself and teach them to be kind to themselves: these things are difficult for us all
  • Many responses are a normal (crying, for example) and are the mind’s mechanisms of trying to make sense and come to terms with what happened
  • Be with people you feel close to and normally spend time with - it helps, talk to someone you feel comfortable with (friends and family) about how you are feeling
  • Talk at your own pace and as much as you feel it’s useful
  • Be willing to listen to others who may need to talk about how they feel
  • Letting feelings out is helpful in the long run
  • Be understanding about yourself

The Peace Foundation has developed ways to prevent violent extremism and works in schools, colleges and communities to do this. The Peace Foundation is often been called upon to resolve conflict if it exists. It now works internationally and is a leader in its field of expertise.

The Peace Foundation was set up by victims for victims. The Foundation operates the Survivors Assistance Network, that offers anyone who is British or lives in Britain support if they have been affected by a terrorist incident anywhere in the world. The service is clinically informed and has a team of skilled caseworkers who know about post-conflict, trauma, welfare, coping and recovery - this service is offered to children and their families (see below). We operate the international Peace Centre in Warrington.

Most people are very resilient and whilst the word ‘trauma’ is used very liberally in our language, trauma is very rare. The signs of trauma depend very much on the individual, however, symptoms to watch for include: becoming fearful, clingy and anxious, bedwetting, becoming preoccupied with thoughts and memories, being unable to concentrate, becoming irritable and disobedient or demonstrating physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches.

If you are concerned about your child and think he or she is traumatised by events in the news, you can approach your GP or contact the Survivors Assistance Network.

Our support is available on the phone, via e-mail, on social media and in person.

We will listen to you, assess your needs and make sure you have the support you require.

Nick Taylor is chief executive of the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation For Peace

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